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As my older son started transitioning to solid foods, we opted to make baby food rather than buying it from the store.
We had a couple of reasons for wanting to make baby food. For one, we liked having full control over what our son ate and knowing precisely what went into his food.
But an equally important reason was to save money. While fifty cents or a dollar may not seem much for a jar of baby food, buying enough for a week can be an additional $20-40 to your weekly grocery bill.
Ultimately we decided to make homemade baby food for both of my boys. What follows is a step-by-step guide on everything we did, and how we saved a decent chunk of change by making our own baby food.
Is Baby Ready for Solids?
Before we get into how to make baby food, it’s important to know when to introduce solids. The American Academy of Pediatrics recommends that solid foods be introduced around six months.
But your baby also has to be physically ready for solids, which includes:
- Being able to sit upright with good, steady head control in a highchair (properly strapped in of course!)
- Showing interest in what you’re eating. This could include intently watching you, reaching for your food, making noises to show interest, etc.
- Doubling birth weight and at least 13 pounds.
- Having developed a good swallow reflex, instead of instinctively pushing away a spoon or food with her tongue (tongue-thrust reflex)
Of course the best way to determine if your child is ready for solids is to talk to her pediatrician. You and your baby’s doctor know the child best so make the choice that is right for your baby’s development.
Making Homemade Baby Food
Making baby food is really simple and doesn’t take a lot of time. It’s totally manageable for exhausted parents who are strapped for time. Believe me, I was (and am!) one!
To make your own baby food, you really only need four things:
- Fruit or vegetables
- A steamer basket
- A blender or food processor
- Storage containers
Let’s look at these one by one.
Deciding what to start with
Choosing baby’s first solids can be a big decision! Prior generations thought starting baby with a rice or oatmeal cereal was the way to go, but increasingly parents are choosing to start with fruits or vegetables.
Talk with your child’s pediatrician to determine what’s best for your baby, particularly if you have concerns about allergies.
When you decide to introduce fruits and veggies you have a lot of decisions to make again.
There’s a lot of information out there on the proper order for introducing new foods. It’s easy to make yourself crazy with loads of often conflicting information. I definitely fell victim to this from time to time.
An easy way to decide is by using store bought baby food as your guide. Stage one foods (the foods first introduced to babies) include peas, carrots, sweet potatoes, apples, and bananas. Avocados and plums could be good choices too.
We decided to introduce green beans first. We wanted to start with a green vegetable and I hate peas so green beans seemed like a good choice.
The one thing I would suggest for the initial fruits and veggies is to avoid ones with a lot of seeds (strawberries, zucchinis, etc.). Starting solids is going to be quite a change for your baby, so make digestion easier by avoiding seeds.
Now that you have an idea on what to introduce first, let’s move on to how to make baby food!
Prepping the food
First, if your fruit or veg has a skin, go ahead and peel it. Again, we’re trying to make baby’s first food as easy to digest as possible.
If you’re starting with whole fruits like apples or pears, or large vegetables like carrots, cut them into smaller chunks. They don’t have to be baby-sized. Pretend like you’re cutting them for yourself to eat. We just want to make them a bit smaller so they’ll steam faster.
Time to get steamy
Next, put a little bit of water in a pot, and plop your steamer basket in. You’ll want the water to be just below the bottom of the basket.
Drop your fruit or veggies in, cover your pot, and turn on the stove.
Now you wait.
Babies are going to need soft foods so go ahead and steam until they’re pretty mushy, likely longer than you would if you were making them for yourself.
When they’re nice and soft, go ahead and turn off the stove, but don’t dump the water from the pot yet. We’re going to need that for later.
Blend it up
Transfer your fruit or vegetables to your blender or food processor.
If they are really soft, or a bit watery, you can probably just blend as is. Use a high setting on your blender so the fruits or veggies get to a nice puree.
If it’s a bit too thick, use the water from the pot that I told you to save to thin it out. The water picked up some nutrients from the veggies while they were steaming so you might as well put them back in rather than dump it down the drain!
Your baby food is ready when it has a smooth, soft texture. Once your baby has gotten the hang of solids, you can leave your baby food a bit lumpier.
For soft foods like bananas or avocados, you may only need a potato masher or even a fork to mush it up enough for baby and can skip the steaming and blending.
Ready to eat!
Before feeding your baby, make sure the food has fully cooled. You don’t want his first experience with solids to include burning the roof of his mouth!
On the flip side, you don’t want it cold. Would you want to eat cold pea puree? Probably not.
To warm up previously made baby food, put it in a small, resealable container, and place the container in some warm water (similar to what you might do to warm up baby bottles). Once it’s room temp or warm (but not hot) go ahead and serve to your baby.
Because it’s a solid, it’s going to take longer than a bottle of milk to warm up, so make sure you budget that extra time in so you don’t have a screaming, hungry baby and a container of cold food!
You can use a microwave too, but be very careful: a microwave can sometimes heat food unevenly. Heating food in the microwave was frowned upon when my kids were babies, but it seems that guidance has loosened a bit in the last couple of years. If you decide to use a microwave, stir it thoroughly and make sure there are no hot spots that could burn baby’s mouth.
You will save yourself a lot of time if you make baby food in larger batches. While making baby food doesn’t take a lot of time, it’s not something you’re going to want to do everyday.
When I was making baby food, I always made the entire package of whatever I had on hand, whether it was a bag of frozen vegetables or a few sweet potatoes.
Since baby isn’t going to be eating much, especially in the beginning, you’re going to have a lot of leftovers.
Also, because it’s homemade, it doesn’t have any preservatives. While that’s probably good for baby, it also means it will spoil quickly. Plan on whatever you’re making only lasting a few days in the fridge.
For uncooked fruits or veggies like bananas and avocados, you will need to throw away whatever baby doesn’t eat in one sitting as they will quickly brown (or you can finish it yourself!).
When I was making baby food, I stored it in my regular kitchen containers. No need to buy anything special! I would scoop out how much I thought my sons would eat and leave the rest in the fridge.
As long as you’ve purchased your resealable containers in the past several years, they are likely BPA free. If your containers are a bit older, it’s worth checking and if you can’t confirm they’re BPA free, it’s probably worthwhile to invest in some new containers.
If baby doesn’t finish what you scooped out, it’s recommended that you throw the rest out. Bacteria from baby’s saliva can grow in the food so be conservative with your portions. You can always scoop out more if baby finishes and is still hungry.
How to Save Money by Making Baby Food
When we think about saving money on baby food, it’s useful to remember that for most of human history, parents have been making their own baby food.
As babies were weaned from mother’s milk, they were likely fed the same thing their parents ate, maybe just mashed up a bit.
No special equipment required
So the biggest thing to realize is that you don’t need anything special to make baby food.
However, baby product manufacturers have discovered that eager parents are willing to buy almost anything that they think will make their baby safer, healthier, or their lives easier.
That’s why you can buy unnecessary (and expensive!) products like baby food makers.
A lot of baby food makers will steam the fruits and veggies and then puree them. But like I described above, all you need is a simple steamer basket and a blender. Not only will you save money, you’ll have one fewer appliance taking up valuable kitchen space.
Any blender or food processor you already have at home will work just fine. If you don’t have one of these items, purchase something that you can use for your own cooking and not something specialized for baby food.
I have an Oster blender/food processor combo unit that I have been quite happy with. It got me through making baby food for both of my boys and is still going strong now that I am making them smoothies and banana swirl “ice cream.”
My advice: unless you plan on making a crazy amount of smoothies for yourself, don’t go overboard for a blender with lots of products and features. For making baby food, pretty much any basic, decent blender or food processor will do.
Skip the cookbook
Don’t buy any special cookbooks either. I actually find it ridiculous that there is such a thing as a baby food cookbook.
When baby is first starting solids, you need to introduce one new food at a time. This is so if the baby has a reaction or allergy to a food, you can easily identify what caused it. Introduce one new food at a time, and wait three to five days before introducing a new food.
As baby tries more and more foods, you can mix them up into new combinations. But you don’t need a special cookbook for this. Just make what sounds good to you, or what you’ve seen in jarred baby food. Experiment with fruit and veggie combos, or mix in a single grain cereal.
Here are some popular combos to get you started:
- Peas and carrots
- Apples and sweet potato
- Peas and potato
- Pears and apples
- Apples and butternut squash
- Green beans and pears
- Peach and banana
- Corn and carrots
- Banana and blueberry
- Spinach and pears
- Apples and apricots
- Banana and mango
- Apples and carrots
Really, you’re only limited by your imagination. Just remember to only introduce one new food at a time.
Once you have introduced a food and baby has been fine with it, you can introduce another food in a combination.
For example, I probably wouldn’t introduce spinach by itself, but I would mix it with pears or something else I know the baby likes. This will improve your chances that baby will accept more foods.
Under the guidance of your pediatrician, you can also introduce grains and legumes like quinoa and white beans.
Get creative and introduce your baby to a variety of foods. Don’t feel you have to limit yourself to traditional offerings found in jarred baby food. That is one of the advantages of making your own baby food after all!
Buy in bulk
Save money with your homemade baby food by buying your fruits and veggies in bulk. Generally, you’ll have a lower unit price, which means more savings.
Worried your baby won’t be able to eat that much food before it spoils? Freeze it! Make your baby food in one large batch, and freeze the rest for later. Portion into single serving sizes by using ice cube trays or breastmilk storage bags.
Make sure your ice cube trays are BPA free. It also helps if they have a lid so you can keep the food protected while it’s in the freezer. When I was making baby food, I used plastic ice cube trays, but sometimes it was hard to get the frozen food out. If I were to do it again, I would use silicon trays.
Buy in season
I would eat strawberries year-round, except that they get expensive outside of the summer months. Do your wallet a favor and buy in-season fruits and vegetables.
Not sure what’s in season? Generally it’s going to be whatever is the lowest price in the grocery store. But you can also check out this handy guide of in-season produce from the U.S. Department of Agriculture.
In addition to buying seasonally, look at local farmer’s markets or CSAs (community-supported agriculture). Not only will you be supporting local businesses, you’ll usually save money. Buying local removes the transport costs that most grocery stores have to contend with, meaning more savings for you.
Don’t forget frozen
Frozen vegetables are perfectly healthy and a great way to introduce fruits and veggies that you may not be able to source locally.
They’re also handy for produce that may be a bit harder to prepare. For example, my husband and I didn’t feel like shucking peas so we always bought frozen!
What’s more, they can also be cheaper than fresh produce.
Should You Buy Organic?
Organic food is food that has been grown without synthetic pesticides, without hormones or antibiotics, and without ionizing radiation. To be certified as organic in the United States, the government has to visit the farm to ensure the food is being grown or raised in accordance with their guidelines.
Organic fruits and vegetables are usually more expensive than their non-organic counterparts, sometimes significantly so.
Many think organics are a safer, healthier option when it comes to our food. But here’s the rub: science hasn’t been able to prove that yet.
Nutritionally, there has been no observable difference between organics and non-organics. That means the same vitamins and minerals are present in the same amounts, whether organic or not.
There’s also the issue of fertilizers and pesticides. Now, just because something is organic doesn’t mean it isn’t treated with fertilizers and pesticides. The difference is the composition. Non-organic produce are usually treated with synthetic fertilizers and pesticides, while organics may be treated with nonsynthetic, or organic, pesticides.
It natural to assume that chemical-based pesticides are less healthy than natural pesticides, but again, science hasn’t been able to prove that yet. And science also hasn’t been able to prove that hormones or antibiotics added to meats will cause any long-term harm.
I don’t write any of this to cause a debate. The decision whether to buy organic or not is often deeply personal, and people have strongly held beliefs about it one way or the other. But if money is tight, don’t feel like you’re doing your baby a disservice if you can’t afford the organic surcharge.
As always, talk to your child’s pediatrician to make the decision that’s best for your family.
The dirty dozen and the clean fifteen
If you’re on the fence about whether to buy organic produce for your homemade baby food, you may want to focus on the dirty dozen.
The dirty dozen are the fruits and vegetables that contain the largest amount of residual pesticides. Strawberries routinely come out on the top of the list. Several other fruits and veggies that you may want to present to your baby do too, like peaches, apples, and potatoes.
Conversely, you also have the clean fifteen, those fruits and vegetables that have the least amount of residual pesticides. These include fruits and vegetables like frozen peas, avocados, broccoli, and cantaloupes.
So Does Homemade Baby Food Really Save Money?
Generally yes, but let’s break down the math a bit. We’ll use the examples of bananas, peas, and sweet potatoes.
I’m going to use prices around me. I live in a suburb in the NYC-metro area, so my food prices may seem higher than what you’re familiar with if you live farther away from a city.
Around me, one jar of stage one baby food is between $0.65 and $1. Let’s just use $0.75 per serving for our calculations.
At my grocery store, a bunch of bananas is $0.50 per pound for non-organic and $0.60 for organic, and there is usually about three bananas in one pound.
When baby is first starting out on solids, s/he will probably only eat half a banana. So, that means you’ll get six servings in a pound. If you purchase non-organic, that means each serving is about eight cents; organic will be around ten cents.
That’s certainly much cheaper than buying jarred food!
Once baby gets a bit older and can eat more, one banana will be one serving, so your costs go up to $0.16 for non-organic and $0.20 for organic.
With bananas, you’re definitely going to come out ahead if you make your own baby food. What’s better is that you can usually just mash a banana with a fork, making prep nonexistent!
Like I said, my husband and I used frozen peas to save time from shucking fresh peas. I can get a sixteen ounce bag of frozen peas for around $1.25 on sale. If I buy organic, it’s closer to $2.
Most stage one jars of baby food are 2.5 ounces, so you can get a little over six servings in a sixteen ounce bag of vegetables. That means each serving of non-organic will be around twenty cents. For organic, it will be around $0.33.
Stage 2 jars are four ounces, so as baby gets older you will get about four servings per bag. That means your per-serving price for non-organic will be about $0.31 and organic will be about fifty cents.
You’re still coming out ahead by making your own baby food. You can pretty much use these estimates for most other frozen bags of vegetables (carrots, green beans, broccoli, etc.).
I can purchase a pound of non-organic sweet potatoes for about $1.25, and a pound of organic sweet potatoes for about $1.66.
It can be tough to estimate how much sweet potato a baby eats. To make things easy, let’s assume she’ll eat a third of a potato when she’s first starting out on solids, and half as she gets older. There are approximately three medium sized potatoes in a pound, meaning that you’ll get nine servings at the “stage one” age and six servings at the “stage two” age.
So when baby first starts out, each serving of sweet potatoes will be about fourteen cents for non-organic and eighteen for organic. For stage two servings, you’re looking at twenty cents for non-organic and twenty-eight for organic.
Again, you come out ahead with making baby food, and by quite a bit.
Is Making Baby Food Right for You?
If I did my math correctly (which is always questionable!), it’s a pretty safe bet that you’re going to save money with homemade baby food.
But as I’ve tried to stress before, there’s a value on your time and your stress level that you must take into account as well.
I found that making baby food was manageable. As I was making dinner for my husband and myself, it was easy to put another pot on the stove for the baby’s vegetables. Other times, I’d throw a pan of sweet potatoes in the oven as I was getting the baby ready for bed. By the time he was down, they were cooked and ready to be pureed.
Ultimately, we used a mixture of homemade and jarred foods. We used jarred for when we were going to be out all day because it was easier than trying to keep it cool and then warm it when my sons were ready to eat. As we started introducing meats to our sons, we opted for jars because I didn’t want to fuss with pureeing meats.
Here are the brands that we liked:
If baby will let you, experiment with brands so you can buy what’s on sale.
Find the balance that works for you, and it’s completely fine if you decide to try it and it doesn’t work out for you. Making baby food is not worth stressing yourself out over.
I would be remiss if I didn’t remind you that I’m not a nutritionist or a pediatrician. Everything in this article comes from my own experience of making homemade baby food for my sons. When you think your baby is ready to try solids, talk with your child’s pediatrician first to get advice that’s suited for your child.
Making baby food is a great way to save money. If you’re a new parent, or soon to become one, you have probably realized how expensive babies can get! So it makes sense to save money on baby expenses when you can. Homemade baby food will definitely save money, and it honestly doesn’t take that much time. Plus, you know exactly what your baby is eating, which gives a lot of parents peace of mind.
This step-by-step guide has described the exact steps I went through making baby food for my kids. I hope it’s given you the confidence to try it out. Your wallet will thank you, and your baby probably would too if he could talk!